Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

My mom, who can be quite the philosophical sort, once told me that “knowledge is a circle.” She explained to me that the more you know, the bigger the circle gets; but at the same time, the perimeter of the circle also grows and you become aware of more things outside the circle. The upshot is that “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” And that is why I’m pretty sure I’ll never run out of things to say in this column.

I’ve tried to tell my kids this, but they just roll their eyes. My mom, on the other hand, turned 91 last month. Imagine all the things she knows she doesn’t know!

Here’s my list for this week:

Teams that are hot.

Every morning I wake up early and update the tables and graphs on the Hardball Times Team page. I guess we could automate the process, but I actually enjoy this little 20-minute ritual. I notice something new almost every morning, something worth remembering.

One thing I’ve noticed this year is that the teams on the National League graphs have moved around a lot, while the American League teams have been more consistent. The NL is the league of change; the AL has been more predictable. Right now, there are three hot NL teams worth mentioning:

The Phillies are hot.
Wow, are they ever. As of Wednesday, the Phillies had won nine in a row, the latest a thriller against the division-leading Mets. The Balls Sticks & Stuff guy notes their high-octane offense and bullpen as reasons for the streak, while Beerleaguer notes some of the key offensive players, including the observation that Chase Utley has replaced Bobby Abreu as their best all-around player.

Plus, Philly fans have two words for you: Cole Hamels.

The Padres are hot.
The Padres lost their first game this month Tuesday night. Does that sound familiar to you? Last year, the Pads were 22-6 in May and 60-72 the rest of the year. This year, they’re 8-1 so far in May. Maybe it’s because May is National Military Appreciation month. After all, PETCO Park is within walking distance of naval and marine bases.

Khalil Greene seems to pay extra attention to the calendar, as San Diego Spotlight points out:

But the part of this game that is going to lead off Sportscenter and be seen over and over again was full of extra irony. Remember the game in which Khalil Greene first started getting national attention for his defense? Wearing the ‘84 uniforms, Khalil put on a show, diving left and right to steal hits from Cubbie batters. The cherry on top was a double play he started by diving behind second base and feeding Mark Loretta from his glove, throwing his whole body into the flip.

Guess what? He did it again. On the same date in May. Against the same ball club. Against the same Cub hitter (Aramis Ramirez). In the same inning! (The eighth.)

The Diamondbacks were hot.
The Diamondbacks’ recent seven-game winning streak was fueled by their fine pitching, which only allowed 2.1 runs a game. It’s time to acknowledge that Brandon Webb is a very legitimate Cy Young candidate.

Maybe the change in the Coors’ park factor is real.

Last week, I mentioned the surprisingly average park factor that Coors Park has enjoyed this year. I did a little more research and found that there may be something to this newfound sense of normalcy. Here are the home run park factors (ratio of home runs hit at Coors vs. other parks, for the same teams) over the past four years and including the first sixth of this season:

    2002    1.60
    2003    1.37
    2004    1.23
    2005    1.10
    2006    0.85

Since 2002, the year they installed the humidor at Coors, the home run park factor has steadily decreased. What about runs that aren’t the result of a longball? Bill James invented something called the “Park-S factor” that measures the park factor for non-HR scoring. I have no idea why he called it the Park-S factor, but here are the results for 2006 (so far) and the last three years:

    2003    1.06
    2004    1.08
    2005    1.08
    2006    1.07

Non-home run scoring has hardly changed at all, but the Coors home run rate has dropped dramatically. Can the home run rate stay this low in 2006? Look for a “Humidor Watch” in future articles.

Kansas City Royals fans have snapped.

In the American League, Kansas City’s futility has been constant and enduring. When they recently promoted top prospect Justin Huber to sit on the bench more than half the time, several notable Royals fans snapped.

  • Joe Posnanski, who has been loyally covering the Royals for 10 years, snapped.
  • Renowned baseball authors and researchers Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli snapped.
  • And the Royals Authority started a Royal Incompetence Counter in this post, in which they also called out David Glass for his constant promises to improve.

Good for them. Teams like the Royals unfortunately reinforce the big-market team argument that revenue sharing is nothing but a reward for incompetent management.

Pictures and steroids

As the villainization of Barry Bonds continues apace, it’s nice to see some dispassionate inquiries into what impact steroids have had on baseball. In this interesting post and follow-up, J.C. Bradbury makes the case that expansion has been the largest factor in the increase in home runs over the past 10 to 15 years.

The nut of his argument is that expansion has historically diluted the pitching pool of talent more than the batting pool of talent, and that home run rates are more given to extreme swings. The interesting thing about this finding is that it was put forth by David Pinto more than 10 years ago. In the 1994 Baseball Scoreboard, David also noted that expansion impacts pitching more than hitting, and presciently stated that we could possibly be in for a decade of offense unmatched since the 1930s.

There are probably more than one or two reasons for the decade-long offensive explosion and Barry Bonds’ incredible feats. I don’t doubt that steroid use is one of them, but other factors such as expansion, better conditioning, laser eye surgery, and maple bats that are double-shellacked have probably contributed too.

Maybe it’s the control pitchers who are having a hard time this year.

Over at Baseball Think Factory, a poster named The Corpse had this observation about which pitchers are having a difficult time this year.

Here are the pitchers who, from 2003 to 2005 had a BB/9 below 1.5, and a K/9 below 5.5:

David Wells
Brad Radke
Paul Byrd
Josh Towers
Carlos Silva

From 2003 to 2005, these five pitchers pitched 2,403 innings, with an ERA of 4.03. In 2006, those same five pitchers have pitched 132 innings, with an ERA of 8.53.

It seems to me that this insight deserves a lot of attention.

In the meantime, Nate Silver posted a pretty compelling analysis outlining the impact the World Baseball Classic had on pitchers. Although his article was greeted with skepticism, I think Silver has pretty clearly uncovered something important:

These pitchers are performing about a run and a half worse than they did one year ago. Something rather dramatic has happened with this group of pitchers, and the only common thread that I can deduce between them is that they pitched in the World Baseball Classic.

By the way, you need a subscription to read those articles. Trust me, it’s worth it.

There have only been 46 major league switch hitters who threw lefthanded.

I love little historical findings like this one, courtesy of WasWatching. For what it’s worth, Lance Berkman is the best switch hitter/lefty thrower in baseball history.

Scott Proctor’s low WPA total makes sense.

Speaking of WasWatching, a post about the Yankee Win Probability Added (WPA) totals inspired outrage when it was posted that Scott Proctor, who has a 1.33 ERA, has -32 WPA points. I did a little investigaton, and here’s a game-by-game review of how Proctor totals -32 WPA points.

- 4/4: gives up key hit in 4-3 loss. -35 WPA points
- 4/9: doesn’t give up a run in a meaningless blowout. 0 WPA
- 4/11: pitches shutout inning in blowout loss, but the Yankees score five in the bottom of the eighth and he gets the win. The batters get the WPA credit, not Proctor. 1.5 WPA

- 4/13: pitches a shutout inning in a blowout win. 5 WPA
- 4/15: pitches three solid innings, but the Yankees are already losing 4-0. 6.5 WPA
- 4/18: enters with yanks already losing 7-4. 2.2 WPA
- 4/21: relieves Wang in 5-4 game and walks in a run with the bases loaded, increasing O’s lead to 6-4. Actually doesn’t get credited with a run because he didn’t put the runners on base, but -23 WPA even though he pitches two more innings of scoreless ball. He gave up a critical run and ERA doesn’t capture it. WPA does.

- 4/25: pitches one inning in blowout win. 0 WPA
- 4/28: enters game with Yanks losing by only 2-0 and two men on. Gets two out but then yields HR to give Jays 5-0 lead. -6 WPA

- 5/1: gives up no runs after Sox have already taken 7-3 lead in ninth. 0 WPA
- 5/4: 2/3 inning after Yanks have taken 10-5 lead. 0 WPA
- 5/6: 2 innings after Yanks have 6-1 lead. 3 WPA

The bottom line is that Proctor has given up key runs in close games, and pitched well in blowouts. This is what WPA does; it documents the impact a player has on each game, given the context of the game.

Tuesday’s Red Sox/Yankees game was WPA-crazy.

While we’re talking about Win Probability Added (that’s what WPA stands for), Tuesday’s Red Sox/ Yankee game (14-3 Red Sox win) was an interesting case study. Here’s the fangraphs game graph:

image

Most interesting WPA games are close ones, but this one was interesting because it shows how fluky WPA can be. Consider these observations about the Red Sox from SoxWatch:

Even with 14 runs, nobody comes out as a big WPA winner. The Yankees made three costly errors early. Combined with the two Johnson WPs, these took much of the WPA credit. By the time the offense kicked in, the game was largely won, so there was little WPA to be had. Beckett pitched a decent game but comes out negative, because he was touched for two runs in the first inning (big negative WPA), and had a big lead for most of the remainder of the game, which limited his WPA gain.

According to SoxWatch, the biggest Red Sox WPA contributor was “Yankee errors.” Here are some WPA comments from the New York point of view.

Fangraphs has added Tangotiger’s Leverage Index.

Leverage Index is one of the very best uses of WPA, as presented here at THT a week ago. Although other sites have developed their own Leverage Index, Tangotiger developed the original LI and his is still the best.

Tango has given fangraphs permission to use his Leverage Index in their game logs, as you can see in the above graph. You can use Leverage Index to assess the importance of each situation in a game and catalog how often a reliever has been used in crucial situations. As an example, Scott Proctor’s average Leverage Index is 0.77, which indicates that he hasn’t pitched in a lot of crucial situations yet. 1.00 is average.

I’ve also added a simple version of Leverage Index (verified by Tango) to my WPA spreadsheet. You can use the spreadsheet to come up with your own WPA logs and analysis. It’s located at ftp://ftp.baseballgraphs.com/wpa.

Scott Podsednik may be losing some speed.

Over at Southside Sox, the Cheat presents some interesting stats (once again from fangraphs) that show Scott Podsednik may be losing his speed. It’s a nice example of what good stats analysis, combined with good eyewitness reports (see the comments) can do.

The Cheat also got me hooked on Pendulumeca. Thanks a lot, buddy!

Late entry: check out the new minor league splits page, developed by Brew Crew Ball. Talk about getting hooked…

References & Resources
Please note that the Coors Park “Park-S factor” is on a different scale than the home run park factor. The home run park factor is “raw” and can’t be applied directly to a team’s results. Basically, you should split the home run park factor “in half”—(HRPF-1)/2+1—to put it on the same scale.

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